Traf­fic, spend­ing and Pan Am Games

Open­ing cer­e­monies are tonight in Toronto


Toronto highways are clogged, tick­ets sales have only just passed the half­way mark and ho­tels are re­port­ing fewer book­ings than ex­pected.

Ready or not, the Pan Am Games are here.

Six years af­ter Toronto made its win­ning bid to host the Games, the city is rolling out the welcome mat for 10,000 ath­letes and of­fi­cials from 41 coun­tries in the largest in­ter­na­tional mul­ti­sport event ever held in Canada. With 36 sports and hordes of par­tic­i­pants, the Games eclipse even the Olympic Games the coun­try has hosted.

Cana­dian ath­letes have raved about the thrill of com­pet­ing on home soil and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials have ap­plauded what they con­sider a chance to show off what the coun­try has to of­fer, as well as what they deem an im­por­tant legacy in in­fra­struc­ture.

But the road to the Games hasn’t been en­tirely smooth, and even now, with the open­ing cer­e­mony set for to­day, ex­cite­ment for the event is min­gled with con­cerns over traf­fic and ex­penses.

Saad Rafi, CEO of the TO2015 or­ga­niz­ing com­mit­tee, said he be­lieves Cana­di­ans will come out feel­ing “very proud of what’s been done here.”

“Some­times it’s hard to get a real sense of what (the Games) have to of­fer be­cause there is so much avail­able in this re­gion,” he said.

“But I think when peo­ple start see­ing Cana­dian ath­letes on the top of the podium, when they start see­ing Nathan Phillips Square fire­works ev­ery night with fan­tas­tic artists, Pan Am Park, and so on and so on, just as we saw in the Van­cou­ver Olympics, they’re go­ing to flood back and flood into the city and the re­gion.”

Con­ges­tion is top of mind for many res­i­dents – in­clud­ing the city’s for­mer mayor, Rob Ford, who has com­plained pub­licly about traf­fic-re­duc­tion mea­sures in place for the Games.

Or­ga­niz­ers are count­ing on a 20-per-cent drop in traf­fic to keep grid­lock at bay. For months, they’ve im­plored res­i­dents and visi­tors to walk, bike or car­pool for the du­ra­tion of the Games – a tough sell in a city where road clo­sures for marathons and street fes­ti­vals have be­come po­lit­i­cal hot pota­toes.

Trans­porta­tion of­fi­cials say driv­ers are ad­just­ing to tem­po­rary high-oc­cu­pancy lanes on highways link­ing the Games’ 16 host mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, but ad­mit­ted ear­lier this week the typ­i­cal com­mute into Toronto is now 10 to 12 min­utes longer, when they were aim­ing for seven.

Spend­ing for the Games has also come un­der scru­tiny af­ter com­plaints about ex­ec­u­tive ex­penses and the dis­cov­ery of a sec­ond bud­get for the event.

The province said in 2013 the orig­i­nal $1.44-bil­lion bud­get didn’t in­clude the $700-mil­lion cost of build­ing the ath­letes’ vil­lage or $10 mil­lion for the pro­vin­cial Pan Am sec­re­tar­iat.

Es­ti­mated se­cu­rity costs have also more than dou­bled to $247.4 mil­lion from the ini­tial $121.9 mil­lion in Toronto’s bid for the Games.

Two years ago, the province or­dered TO2015 to tighten its ex­pense rules af­ter some of its well-paid ex­ec­u­tives, in­clud­ing the com­mit­tee’s for­mer pres­i­dent and CEO Ian Troop, billed taxpayers for items such as a 91-cent park­ing fee and $1.89 cup of tea.

Troop got a $534,000 sev­er­ance pack­age when he left amid the com­plaints. Since then, the bonus pool for ex­ec­u­tives on the TO2015 Games’ or­ga­niz­ing com­mit­tee has been re­duced from $7 mil­lion to $5.7 mil­lion, but it’s be­ing split among fewer ex­ec­u­tives.

Cap­i­tal in­fra­struc­ture spend­ing has come in about $53.5 mil­lion un­der bud­get, largely be­cause bid­ding for ma­jor venues was done four to five years ago, or­ga­niz­ers said in their most re­cent quar­terly re­port.

Most of the Games’ $2.5-bil­lion bud­get comes from the fed­eral, pro­vin­cial and Toronto gov­ern­ments, with ticket sales ex­pected to cover about $40 mil­lion.

But ear­lier this week, with just days to go be­fore the Games, only about 800,000 of the 1.4 mil­lion tick­ets had been sold.

And though of­fi­cials pre­dicted the Games would draw roughly 250,000 visi­tors to the re­gion, the Greater Toronto Ho­tel As­so­ci­a­tion says that’s not re­flected in ho­tel book­ings.

Some Toronto ho­tels have re­ported lower oc­cu­pancy than nor­mal in July.

The Games con­tinue un­til July 26, with the Para­pan Am Games to fol­low in Au­gust.

Anouk Eman and Kyra Ho­ev­ertsz of Aruba per­form dur­ing the syn­chro­nized swimming duet tech­ni­cal rou­tine com­pe­ti­tion at the Pan Am Games Thurs­day in Toronto.

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